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Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

book cover of Brown Girl in the Ring

This is a book that Goodreads has been nagging me to read for aaaaages, but sadly it didn't really work for me. The setting felt too far-fetched – maybe it would've made sense amidst the white flight and urban decay of 1970s North America (even though the book was actually published in 1998), but with 2020 vision it's pretty hard to imagine the Canadian/Ontarian governments just abandoning downtown Toronto. None of the main characters are particularly sympathetic; Ti-Jeanne spends most of the book being a fawning idiot over her deadbeat ex Tony, Tony makes terrible decisions at pretty much every turn, and the grandmother, Gros-Jeanne, is a grouchy hardass. Nearly all the dialogue is written in an Afro-Caribbean dialect, which wouldn't be a problem if the book was otherwise engaging but I didn't find it so. And the ending is basically just a deus ex machina (Ti-Jeanne summons the spirits and they fix everything).

Even though I didn't like it, I don't think this is the kind of objectively bad novel that nearly everyone would hate. Horror fans might appreciate it more than me, because (despite Goodreads classifying it as fantasy) it's basically a horror novel in a dystopian/post-apocalyptic setting (with lots of explicit gore). Some people might feel that the richly detailed incorporation of Caribbean culture and legends outweighs the book's flaws. So if you really want to read it, don't let this review stop you… but be warned that characterisation and setting are not really its strong suits.

a cartoony avatar of Jessica Smith is a left-wing feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also very interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.